Atlanta Falcons Get Heads In The Game

Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the New England Patriotsduring Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the New England Patriotsduring Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

During Mental Health Awareness Month, we discuss how the Atlanta Falcons are getting their heads in the game to succeed.

“Embrace the suck.” That’s the motto that Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn hopes will turn the team into Super Bowl champions this upcoming season. Surely, the expression confuses many people as it sounds negative. However, it’s not.

“Eat a crap sandwich with a smile,” Quinn explained to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution earlier this month. “This is going to be hard. Your choice: It’s a victim’s mentality or a warrior mentality. It’s like, ‘I know this run is going to be long, and it’s going to be really hard. But here I go again.'”

Essentially, Quinn is saying “mind over matter”. The football that the Atlanta Falcons turned over in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI, the scoreboard at the end of the game and the tears shed after the loss certainly impacted the team. However, more powerful and important to the team’s future is its mentality; the team’s mindset. Mentality is very important to the Atlanta Falcons organization. So much so that the team created an evaluative statistic: the CT score.

Similar to a diagnostic tool proposed by mental health researchers to evaluate conditions, the two-pronged CT score, used by the Atlanta Falcons to evaluate players, recognizes the continuum of (1) competitiveness and (2) toughness. Now, these two traits can’t be measured on a physical scale but can be determined with objective and subjective data. The first component measures the urgency and pace with which someone plays using factors such as time and speed. The second, toughness, measures the ability to finish and factors in physicality but also resiliency because in football, the way a player attacks the game physically is as important to success as their ability to bounce back after a loss of yards, missed tackle or turnover.

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Shayne McGowan, a mental game coach and founder of Mental Edge Performance, has his own CT model for success as he helps athletes with their mindset and mental strategies to acheive peak performance. He believes confidence + trust = success. McGowan says athletes need to have:

"“1. a general belief in their ability to perform well and win the game;2. a task-specific belief in their ability to pass, run, tackle, and execute.”"

Belief in one’s skills is really the definition of confidence. McGowan explains:

"“If you back yourself more than anyone on the field, then you have confidence. This comes from your belief in football skills, such as passing, running, tackling, blocking, etc.”"

It’s easy for anyone to say “be confident” but it’s not so simple for athletes to develop confidence. Fortunately, there are many sources from which confidence can be derived.

"“Most players get confidence from one or more of the following: (1) past success, (2) experience, (3) performing well in the immediate past, (4) other persons, (5) practice, and (6) having a good support team.”"

The Atlanta Falcons can become Super Bowl champions by building on their past success and experience. Their 2016 season is one of their best and led the team to a division championship and to quarterback Matt Ryan becoming the first player named as NFL MVP in franchise history. Adding this to the talent and experience of key returning veterans such as Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu,  and Vic Beasley, the Falcons have a solid foundation for confidence. And although the Atlanta Falcons stumbled and fumbled in Super Bowl LI, their more recent success and additions in free agency and in the 2017 NFL Draft further solidify the Falcons’ confidence building and provide a good support system for the franchise.

The second component of McGowan’s model, trust, helps the athlete and team maintain confidence. They must learn to “deal with fear of failure” and trust that they can achieve their goals (both individual and team) regardless of any adversity. They must reinforce the positive. “Keeping the dream alive means seeing and feeling success close in hand…With the vision, comes confidence that it is all possible.”

Of course, that’s not to say they should ignore the negative. As Dan Quinn encouraged his team to “eat a crap sandwich with a smile”, McGowan advises the Atlanta Falcons to acknowledge the bad but focus on the positive. As a team, they must focus on the good (such as their brilliant playcalling and coaching) rather than the Super Bowl collapse. Individually, injured players such as Julio Jones must  remember that 100s of athletes get hurt and return with a few or no problems.

As the Atlanta Falcons turn a new page and write the next chapter in their story, McGowan offers some final words of advice.

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"“If they dwell on last year it takes away from confidence and introduces self-doubt. They don’t won’t to make the same mistakes, so they need to move on! In camp they need to work on the mindset of being down and how to perform the 3Rs-Regroup,Refocus,Reset.”"

By getting their heads in the game, the Falcons can rise up and succeed in accomplishing their goals.